Suffering is Optional
by Brenda Shoshanna – New York City

We have many desires that we cannot fulfill which cause frustration and endless suffering. Some of these desires seem to be fundamental, for example, the desire to keep everything predictable, stable and secure. However, life is built upon Principles that often oppose our imagined needs. We then fight and resist what happens intensely, and suffering inevitably appears. There is another way to proceed, however. As we let go of how we think Life ought to be, and learn and live in accordance with Life’s actual principles, although we may have temporary pain upon occasion, suffering itself disappears.

Let’s explore these Life Principles and see how they affect our life every day:

Principle 1: Life Is Nothing But Change

Although we want things to stay the same forever, life is nothing but change. No matter how much we hold onto people, memories or achievements, change must come. Our sense of safety is thus constantly threatened, and we do not know where our true security lies. To combat this we make plans, try to control whatever happens and know what to expect next.

We cannot control the events of life, though. The outcome is not in our hands. We can take charge of our reactions, but the outcome itself is not in our hands. However, if we give ourselves fully to each moment, do our best, and not focus on the outcome, we can be joyful anyway. There is a great joy of doing everything wholeheartedly, of giving ourselves one hundred percent. Although change is constant, suffering is optional.

Principle 2: Life Arises As It Does. It is Our Demand That It Turn Out Differently That Causes Our Suffering

It is not the outcome of what happens that can be so painful, it is the fact that it does not meet our wishes or impossible demands. We demand that we not change in anyway. Some hide from age, illness, and loneliness and even run from those who are experiencing them. We demand that everyone love us, no matter who. As we struggle to be loved and cherished, sometimes we are, sometimes not. Much of our life is devoted to being loved, approved of, or cared for. It creates a fleeting sense of self worth. We even demand this of people who have no idea of how to love, or who do not even approve of ourselves. We demand it anyway and insist that life give us our just due. We do not dwell upon what we give to life, only what we get. And yet, even when things go our way and we temporarily feel good about ourselves, or receive what we want, the gnawing pain, the suffering within does not go away.

Principle 3: Change is Just Change, Not Loss

When we see that change is just change, it can be so freeing. Mostly we experience change as loss; loss of love, job, money, position, reputation. But change is simply a natural phenomena. When something disappears from your life or greatly alters, it does not reflect upon you. It does not mean that you failed, were rejected, or are not worthy. It simply means that a time of change came along.

Our suffering arises when we experience what happens as though it reflects upon our own worth. To see change as simply change, as one of the basic, and even positive laws of life, removes the suffering from our experience. This is not to say that we won’t feel pain. Of course many experiences in life are painful. But pain is simply pain and suffering is what we add to it. Pain arises and naturally departs. Suffering lingers, gnaws at us, worsens, and ties us into knots.

Exercise: Find That Which Never Changes

The real question is how to live with endless change? When we discover that which never changes we will become truly stable and able to withstand the altering tides. This is a profound life koan, or challenge. It’s exciting to explore it, with wonderful surprises.

To find what is real, just let go of that which is unreal. To find that which never changes, just stop clinging to that which changes everyday.

What Do You Rely On?

What have you relied on for a sense of safety and security? Just notice and write it down. What has the outcome been? Just noticing helps a great deal.

As you realize where you’ve placed your trust, you can pause and open your horizons. Is this a wise choice you’ve made? Explore what truly gives you the sense of safety in the world. What is it that never changes and will never pull the rug out from beneath you? Then, base your life upon that?

Dwelling as change brings peace

Principle: Let Life Be What It Is

This does mean that you do not take natural, positive action when the need arises. This principle simply suggests that we stop trying to control life; to know that every moment will be different and accepting that. As we dwell as change, we become familiar and at ease with the natural flow. By dwelling as change itself, we receive the ability to accept and deal with all that life presents. This ability frees us, brings great joy and aliveness as we greet the changing moments and tapestries of life, one by one.

Brenda Shoshanna, Ph.D. is an award winning author, speaker, psychologist and long term Zen practitioner. Her work integrates the teachings of East and West and focuses upon how to live them in our everyday lives. She offers talks, workshops and a weekly podcast, Zen Wisdom for Your Everyday Life, Brenda’s latest book is The Unshakeable Road to Love, (Value Centered Relationships), Contact her





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